“Now also we beseech you, brethren, get to know those who labor among you [recognize them for what they are, acknowledge and appreciate and respect them all]— your leaders who are over you in the Lord and those who warn and kindly reprove and exhort you. And hold them in very high and most affectionate esteem in [intelligent and sympathetic] appreciation of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1Th 5:12-13 Amplified).
To any Bible scholar who has thoroughly immersed himself in the study of God’s Word, the subject of God ordained authority is familiar. From the establishment of the world, God has orchestrated authority in the home, nation, and (in the present dispensation) the church; to give direction, maintain law and order, and provide structure/organization through which the functions of life can move forward with success. It is evident to any open minded heart that God allows man to make personal choices with the authority he has been endowed with. As man is born carnal, these choices are often against the holy will of God, yet the authority that has been vested by God is to be respected and obeyed without excuse. The exception to this mandate is when earthly authority begins to require of disciples things contrary to the higher law of God. Although honor and respect must still be given to authority, in this case disobedience to their laws is imperative in order to continue as
disciples of God and His Word.
Our focus in this article is on how God expects disciples to relate to church leaders in our present dispensation. This subject could be addressed from a number of angles. What should church leaders do to gain the respect of their people? What should the people do when Godly church leaders appear to be going wrong? What forms of church leadership and practical administrations follow Biblical directives? We will seek to keep our focus on considering scriptural directives God has given for relating to those men who have rightfully been placed in responsibilities of church leadership, and are endeavoring to fulfill this great task.
The New Testament uses a number of different terms for early church authority, beginning with the apostles and followed by deacons, ministers, elders, and bishops. Various scriptures note specific requirements for seeking out from among God’s people those who will properly take up these offices. It is interesting that in these requirements for church leadership, we find their past relationships to be important as well as their ability to develop good relationships with integrity. These directives place much responsibility upon them for the spiritual care of the souls within their realm of duty. Obviously, relationships must be built in order for this to happen. No relationship is built by one person; it always takes the effort of both.
The first and possibly most important consideration is the acceptance of God ordained authority. Romans 13:1-2 refers to the seriousness of this fact. All authority, whether in the church or in the kingdoms of this world, is ordained of God and must be obeyed. The consequence of disobedience is eternal damnation. It is not so important how the administrations of authority are designed organizationally as it is to accept the command to obey God ordained authority. The disobedience or disrespect of authority is one of the devil’s main tools in taking souls captive. This was his original plan with Adam and Eve in the garden, and it has continued through time. Rebellion is pride and focuses on self and the desires of the flesh.
Repentance, confession, and accepting Jesus Christ as our personal savior places Holy Spirit power into our experience and brings us under the authority of the global church of Jesus Christ. With the Spirit to guide and empower us to overcome the flesh and all its vices, we can now be transformed in our relationships. Churches of Jesus Christ vary greatly in administration and practical agreements to Biblical principle, yet the fact remains that membership in any of these organizations is voluntary and based on the testimony of a transformed life. Agreements within these organizations are therefore under the direction of the leadership that God has ordained to guide the church. This declares that any disciple who chooses to pledge his allegiance to a particular body of believers is required by God to obey those practical agreements. To build relationships with those who “labor among us,” we will seek to keep our voluntary commitments to the church open and full of integrity. There are always times for discussion or questions, but it must be understood that authority placed in the church by God is to be respected and obeyed.
There are those instances when a disciple realizes he no longer finds himself in harmony with the practical ways his church applies the Word. At this juncture in his life, he must seek out a church with which he can once more voluntarily cast his lot. He must never violate his present commitment until he has changed his allegiance to a different group of believers; otherwise he will find himself in direct challenge to God ordained authority.
It is a weakness in humanity to view an authority with either too much reverence, or with disdain. As disciples we seek to find God’s will in this. Those who “labor among us” have not campaigned or fought for their position, as many in earthly kingdoms do, but rather have been given a duty of service that has changed their life forever. As they seek to fulfill the duties God has given them through the church, their desire is to know those under their authority in ways that help them determine spiritual conditions of individuals so they can watch for their souls. It is just as improper to revere them as it is to disrespect them. To bless them we need to believe they are still living in the flesh with all the struggles those under their authority face. More so, their responsibility brings added accountability.
Open communication with them about our lives is imperative in helping them continue their work. Asking them about their spiritual journey is also important. This will give us direct knowledge in how to more properly pray for them from day to day. Those who “labor among us” need friends. It has sometimes happened in church culture that these men were thought of as ones with whom we can no longer be friends, but rather have more or less a “business” style relationship. This is far from the direction that scripture gives to disciples working together for the glory of God. Our theme verse suggests an affectionate relationship and one that is “intelligent and sympathetic.” This indicates a close friendship. If these servants of God carry the responsibility in a specific way to watch for souls, then a loving friendship with them only becomes that much more important. Regular phone calls, text messages of encouragement, getting together with them as families, taking them out for lunch, or giving them transportation to a speaking assignment are only a few practical suggestions on how to build these friendships and make their work lighter. It is good to know their schedules so they can be reminded of our prayer support through the heaviness of their responsibilities.
Interestingly, the theme verses in focus end with some pertinent advice. “Be at peace among yourselves”! What a beautiful way to better our relationship with God and His ordained authority. Disagreements without love, strivings, and interpersonal relationship struggles always stress relationships with our leaders and threaten to divide the body. A Godly church leader will spend much time and energy to know the truth about matters and seek to bring restoration. This will create many temptations for bitterness and cynicism in his experience. He will struggle to love his brethren as he ought, yet knows the standard of God has never changed and he must be faithful to his calling. On our part, diligence in individual commitment to holy living and loving the brethren will be a tremendous asset in bringing about closeness of relationship with those who “labor among us.”
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb 13:17).
~ Chambersburg, PA